Commentary: How Committed Is CBS To Change? Not Much, By The Looks Of It

By Nina Metz
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As columnist Nina Metz points out regarding Les Mooves and his exit package, “Whether it’s $80 million or $100 million or $120 million, these are staggering sums. Staggering sums to fork over to someone who stands accused of sexually assaulting and harassing colleagues”

Chicago Tribune

How committed is CBS to change? Not much, by the looks of it.

There’s been a lot of news reported about the company these past few days. It’s worth pulling it all together to see a clearer picture of what is (and isn’t) actually happening.

As of late as last week, sources told CNBC that CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves was in the process of negotiating a $100 million exit package.

On Sunday, The New Yorker published yet more allegations about Moonves that included claims he forced women to “perform oral sex on him, that he exposed himself to them without their consent, and that he used physical violence and intimidation against them.”

In the wake of this latest report from investigative reporter Ronan Farrow, Moonves resigned immediately and according to the LA Times: “CBS announced that it and Moonves will donate $20 million to organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace.”

Note this detail: “The donation, which will be made in the coming days, will be deducted from any severance benefits that might have been due to Moonves, who has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct.”

Meaning: That $20 million is coming out of Moonves’ $100 million, which is on hold pending an investigation currently being conducted by two outside law firms hired by the CBS board of directors.

If Moonves is fired for cause, that severance goes away entirely. Subtracting the $20 million donation, that money currently stands at $80 million.

So you’d think.

In fact on Monday, Variety reported that according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission: “CBS Corp said it had set aside $120 million as a potential severance payment for former CEO Leslie Moonves.”

Does that mean the $20 million donation from CBS and Moonves isn’t coming out of his potential severance at all?

That tells us a lot about CBS’s priorities.

Whether it’s $80 million or $100 million or $120 million, these are staggering sums.

Staggering sums to fork over to someone who stands accused of sexually assaulting and harassing colleagues, and tells us exactly how concerning CBS finds any of this. Perhaps not at all.

Consider how many potential employees could have been hired to work at CBS from that $100 million, people who have been typically marginalized in Hollywood and people who could actually be contributing to the company’s future, not paying off it’s past.

Variety senior TV editor Brian Steinberg also tweeted this: “If Moonves is not terminated for cause, he would provide advisory services to CBS for up to a year. CBS would provide security and office services for two years.”

Gone doesn’t really mean gone, does it? So, he may be advising. And have a physical office presence.

There’s the nasty irony that CBS will be providing security for a man who stands accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment and retribution. Will the company be providing security to employees to protect them against Moonves?

How exactly is this a new day at CBS?

Some more facts:
Last year Moonves made $69.3 million. His total compensation, salary and stock awards, “totaled more than $1 billion, according to Equilar, a research firm that gathers data on executive pay,” reported the New York Times.

The CBS board has also ousted six members and added six new names in the wake of Moonves’ resignation: three white women, two white men and one black man. It’s good to see equitable gender representation but the fact that there is just one person of color, and no women of color at all at such a powerful level, tells us a good deal about CBS’s priorities.

It’s also worth noting that the top executives who currently remain at CBS, all men, have “worked with Moonves for so long, their tastes and creative instincts are very much in line with his,” Vulture’s Josef Adalian reported.

This is presumably good news for CBS, which has been very successful under Moonves.

But what about the systemic abuses that have led CBS to shrug off allegations of sexual misconduct by others that occurred on Moonves’ watch? Does of all that remain in place too with Moonves’ cronies still in place?

In a piece for Vulture titled “Brad Kern and the House That Moonves Built at CBS,” former Tribune TV critic Maureen Ryan expanded on her earlier reporting on Kern, who until recently was the showrunner for “NCIS: New Orleans.” Ryan talked to dozens of people who accused him of “creating toxic, sexist and vindictive work environments” over a period of 20 years.

There’s more: “Kern has already survived two HR inquiries into his behavior. CBS chose to sign him to a new two-year deal in the spring. In June, around the time a Hollywood Reporter story on Kern came out, the network retained an outside law firm to conduct a third investigation into multiple allegations that, over the course of his career (and not just at CBS), he engaged in workplace retaliation, sexually harassed those who work for him and made a string of racially insensitive comments.”

Though he has since been demoted from showrunner to consulting producer, he is still employed by CBS. Here’s what a witness to Kern’s behavior told Ryan: “When he was not fired once I told this to HR, and others told this to HR, it seemed to me that Les (Moonves) must be enabling this kind of behavior.”

Per Ryan’s story, which ran last month, Kern was eventually suspended and “will remain off the job until the third investigation is concluded.”

Another key figure who was likely enabled by Moonves is “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager, who was named in Farrow’s original reporting on Moonves for The New Yorker. The story cited “19 current and former employees who alleged Fager protected men accused of misconduct, including some employees who reported directly to him. Six former employees alleged Fager had touched employees in an unwanted fashion at company events. The producer has denied the allegations.”

The story also alleged that under Fager’s management, “60 Minutes” senior producer Michael Radutzky “assaulted Vicki Gordon, a female senior producer, twisting her arm behind her back. The New Yorker said that Fager told the producer not to report the incident to human resources and to apologize to Radutzky.”

In Farrow’s most recent story, yet another woman accuses Fager of groping her rear end at a party.

After taking an extended vacation following Farrow’s original story at the end of July, Fager was back at work by mid-August.

You don’t have to be a cynic to wonder what CBS intends to do to genuinely change its corporate culture as it socks away $120 million for a potential payout to the man who set the tone.

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